European Union leaders meeting in Brussels said Thursday that they would not lift economic sanctions against Russia until a cease-fire Moscow endorsed last month for war-torn eastern Ukraine was fully implemented.
EU President Donald Tusk said the decision showed the clear intent of the 28-nation EU to continue pressing Moscow to end its support for the pro-Russian rebellion, in which more than 6,000 people have been killed in the past 11 months.
Moscow has repeatedly denied lending direct support to rebels in Ukraine's Russian-speaking border regions. It has strenuously objected to a series of sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States.
The first wave of EU sanctions was imposed in July, after analysts linked the downing of a Malaysian passenger jetliner in Ukrainian territory to Russian-made missiles. The Kremlin has denied any role in the shootdown, which killed all 298 people on board.
Since then, both Brussels and the Obama administration have targeted senior Russian officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin with visa bans and asset freezes. Further Western penalties have targeted Russia's banking and energy sectors.
Existing European sanctions were scheduled for renewal in July, and some EU countries had wanted to extend them at least until the end of 2015. Other member countries had called for a wait-and-see approach, linking any decisions to military developments on the ground.
Thursday's EU decision did not include any new sanctions. Ahead of the two-day summit, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met with Tusk and accused Putin of trying to divide Europe over Ukraine. He told EU leaders that a show of European unity on sanctions would be the best response.
Earlier Thursday, Russia accused Washington of undermining the Minsk agreement with Ukraine.
Speaking in Moscow after a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington was encouraging Kyiv to opt for a military solution in response to the situation in eastern Ukraine.
"If Washington welcomes actions that undermine the Minsk agreements, then one can only come to the conclusion that Washington is inciting Kyiv to opt for a military solution of the problem," Lavrov said at a news conference.
Apparently, Lavrov referred to a telephone conversation Wednesday between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Biden welcomed the decision by the Ukrainian parliament to grant limited self-rule to the rebel-controlled eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but only after holding local elections under Ukrainian law, a condition that angered Moscow.
Biden and Poroshenko also agreed that sanctions against Russia must be tied to the full implementation of the Minsk peace plan.
"As long as Russia continues to fuel violence and instability in Ukraine, the international community must be prepared to increase the costs to Russia for pursuing such actions," the White House said in a statement.
Some information for this report came from AP and Reuters.